Astlibra Revision is a game that cursory glances might suggest is just another attempt to create a modern-retro side scroller. But if you look deeper, there's an impressive amount of game here, and this could easily be one of the most expansive action RPGs on the market today.
A long time revising
This game, according to its store page, has been in development for fifteen years. And there's certainly a lot going on here. The story starts with the protagonist (you) and your bird Karon surviving off the land for eight years after a demon attack robbed you both of your memories. As you explore the world, you'll run into a wide assortment of characters, demons, and more plot points than you might first expect for a game of this type.
The experience is split into chapters, with each one taking place in a self-contained area filled with hidden treasures, enemies, and a few boss fights. Survive, and you'll return to the hub area to continue your journey (you can also revisit areas you've been to previously). The premise of each chapter might sound a bit hokey at first, but you'll participate in some deep and dark conversations as you unravel the story.
The gameplay is really what separates Astlibra Revision from its peers, largely by including every kind of system imaginable.
Yes to all
When it comes to secondary systems and progression, I don't think there is an action RPG that beats Astlibra Revision. I would compare this game to something like Disgaea in terms of game system depth, including its multiple forms of progression (which are all required pursuits if you want to see everything).
Every weapon and armor piece earns experience that unlocks either a new skill or crystals that activate skills after you use them enough. There are unlockable recipes for new gear, a passive tree that would make Path of Exile blush, and other systems and challenges. You'll come across more unlockable content and challenges even up to the very end of the game, where it briefly turns into an action roguelike.
The story here is all over the place, with multiple "bad endings" to avoid on your path to the over-the-top "real" ending. This is a game for action RPG fans; there's a lot to enjoy and experience if you intend to see everything, including optional "super fights". Astlibra Revision is definitely a "me" kind of game, but even I can't ignore some of the issues that do knock it down a few pegs.
Timeless pain points
Astlibra Revision reminds me of another game - La Mulana - in that this is truly a game that was designed by the fans of the genre, for the fans of the genre. That means it offers very little to people who aren't already highly familar with the genre. This game casually hides the fact that you can unlock double jumping right at the very beginning, for example. Several hidden treasure chests contain essential skills that'll make your life a lot easier in specific sections. Some of the puzzles you solve can be highly obtuse in places, as you must rely on hitting very specific event triggers to progress.
And if you decide to play on the higher - or highest - difficulty, all I can say is "good luck" when you get to one of the many extreme difficulty spikes the game has to offer. There were several places that I'll avoid spoiling here that were just horrible to go through on higher difficulties. This is partly due to the structure of the game, where previous chapters and their respective loot and gear are inaccessible when you are in the story of another chapter. Due to the previously-mentioned skill unlocks, having the right skills and accessories can triviliaze some of the game's spikier sections. However, it's very easy to end up in a soft-lock situation where you don't have the right skills and items for a given challenge, and you're unable to get them.
From a purely technical standpoint, Astlibra Revision doesn't have too many bugs that I could find, but it does have some issues with hit detection and hitboxes. Enemy attacks will often generate the hitbox surrounding an attack before the attack animation actually plays. On the lower difficulty settings this isn't too bad, but when you're on the higher ones and death occurs quickly, this can make a huge difference.
This game will also throw a ton of projectiles at you, including from enemies who can snipe at you from across the arena. Due to the way the camera pans, bullets don't appear at the edge of the screen but a few inches inward - this lowers the amount of time you have to respond to off-screen attacks. Believe me when I say that this becomes a problem in the later chapters.
Astlibra Revision is one of those games that you are either a fan of or you're not. It's a rich, massive project for action RPG fans, and it's very much the kind of game for people who know what they're getting into. If you're interested in a sprawling, combat-fuelled epic, and you want to push the difficulty as high as you possibly can, this is the game for you. But if you're new - or not a fan of action RPGs per se - then this is not a great entry point into the genre. I suspect that players will fall into two camps here: either you'll discover insurmountable issues early on and you'll stop playing fast, or you'll go all the way through to the true ending and see everything the game has to offer.
Despite the pain points I outlined in this review, I really enjoyed Astlibra Revision. I hope there's more to come from the developers in future.
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